Sharing the leadership

March 17, 2010

By Lorie Streeter

During dental school you closed your eyes and imagined the perfect practice — state-of-the-art equipment, bustling with happy patients, low overhead and high profit.

Here’s the ultimate question: Did you picture yourself running that well-oiled machine alone, or did you paint into your dream office an educated, motivated superstar to manage it for you? Most dentists don’t go to school envisioning, let alone preparing, having to deal with HR issues, A/R strategies, or a schedule with the ideal practice management software. You just wanted to be a dentist!

The dental office manager is the unsung hero in most dental practices. Some of you are thinking, “I couldn’t live without my office manager,” and others might be wondering whom you would actually call your manager, because in some offices this role is not defined. The dental office manager is an emerging career opportunity for business-minded men and women who have a love of dentistry or health care, combined with strong business acumen.

It is important to understand that “sharing leadership” in your practice does not mean handing the helm of the ship over to another captain. It does not mean that you are giving free rein to another person to make critical business decisions. What it can do for your business is give you time to practice dentistry while your key business associate, the office manager, runs the day-to-day operations with your approval and support. Below are 10 key steps to foster the best relationship with your office manager or practice administrator.

10 Key Steps

Step 1:
Identify the person who holds the job title or job description of office manager or practice administrator in your practice. If that position isn’t reasonable for your practice at this point, consider consulting, researching, and implementing this pivotal role in your practice’s success.

Step 2: Officially give this person the title if he or she doesn’t already have it. Share with this person your vision for the overall success of your practice.

Step 3: Define roles, responsibilities, and expectations. Most office managers are looking for structure and defined reachable personal and practice goals.

Step 4: Share the information so that the rest of your team understands that your office manager shares the leadership role in your practice. When you are not there the office manager is your business team partner. It is critical that your team understands that both of your goals align for the benefit and growth of the practice.

Step 5: Become your office manager’s education champion. There are now more ways than ever in which you can support your office manager’s growth. Encourage your office manager to participate in as many educational opportunities as possible. Some webinars and podcasts can be taken right from the dental office without disruption of the practice. Don’t forget the ROI potential — with one great piece of scheduling advice/education, your office manager can increase your bottom line and fill valuable chair time, boost marketing, and become an even better leader.

Step 6: Send your office manager to the American Association of Dental Office Manager’s (AADOM) annual conference. The information and peer-to-peer learning leads to a once a year jump-start for new ideas and renewed enthusiasm. AADOM is the only association dedicated solely to the educational and career development of the dental office manager.

Step 7: You need to be able to trust your office manager with the vitality of your practice. You must ask yourself if you feel 100% confident that you are on the same page with the practice’s direction. If you can’t say that with confidence you need some more communication with this critical team leader.

Step 8: Schedule weekly or bi-weekly meetings with your office manager. During this time you can discuss staff issues, new patient numbers, scheduling, and more.

Step 9: Establish an incentive program that will motivate your office manager even more. Compensation is one thing, and recognition is equally important. Think about an incentive program for your office manager that might change his/her outlook on his/her job performance, and willingness to work toward your desired result — practice growth and happy patients.

Step 10: Finally, embrace the reality that you don’t have to be alone in your vision. Office managers don’t want to take over your office or your staff — they want to be supported, recognized, and most importantly, valued. Your practice and patients win through a good dentist/office manager relationship.

Finding the right fit for you and your practice — It is important when you are looking for an office manager or hiring for your practice that you consider all of the facets of a position. Some office managers started out as dental assistants, but the trend in the last few years is that business-minded individuals are being hired for their overall skill set vs. their knowledge of dentistry.

A perfect example is a practice administrator at Southern Minnesota Endodontics, Mindy Otto, who also happens to be AADOM’s 2007 Office Manager of the Year. Mindy’s background was in business administration, not dentistry. When endodontist Scott Peters was asked why he hired Mindy, his answer was simple — “She had the total package I was looking for from a business management perspective, and she was only missing the dentistry piece, which I viewed as easy for her to learn.”

I have had the pleasure of working with thousands of dental office managers through my role as vice president of business development for the American Association of Dental Office Managers ( I was also an office manager for over 12 years. That experience allowed me to become confident enough to write this article. You never know what you can inspire your office manager to do. START TODAY!

Lorie Streeter has been working with AADOM for the past three years. Lorie owns her own marketing company, StreeterBuilt Strategic Marketing, which is the driving force behind and the “Break to Brush” program. Lorie’s dental career spans 22 years, 12 of which were spent as a dental office manager. She is dedicated to the growth and development of office managers and business staff. Lorie serves on the AADOM advisory council and the FAADOM council, and volunteers with the Lupus Foundation and the ALS association. She is a lifetime member of AADOM.